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Letters: HS2 savings could give something back to society

High Speed 2

HS2: Savings could contribute to NHS funds

Most of the letters to the media are either totally against or totally in favour of High Speed 2 (HS2).

The benefits to those using it and to local economies are clear. But many taxpayers consider that, although funded by all, it benefits too few and that such an expenditure on a single route is not best value. There are many competing good options (for example, Charles Brindley’s in NCE 13 November 2014) and the project would benefit from wider public acceptability.

I have worked on engineering many taxpayer funded major projects, including the Channel Tunnel, the Humber Bridge, the Jubilee Line, Limehouse Link, Cardiff Bay Barrage and others. I know that, not only are such step change projects necessary, they are also notoriously difficult to deliver to budget. Equally, it is clear that they could have been delivered for lower cost without any loss of performance.

I appreciate the need for HS2, but believe decision-makers could consider a way forward that is more cost-effective and at the same time more acceptable.

Our industry already serves the country in so many different and essential ways. One more massive contribution would be to value engineer £1bn out of the £50bn HS2 funding, to be used specifically for medical research.

This would benefit the whole nation, not just those travelling north or those in nearby economic zones but also the struggling NHS budget faced with the ever increasing ageing population.

One in four of us will succumb to some form of dementia often in association with such debilitating ailments as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s. However there are pitifully few funds allocated to addressing these global problems.

I have no doubt that the industry, and the HS2 project team in particular, is capable, and would be motivated if tasked, to selflessly apply the extra normal effort to value engineer HS2 for £49bn, or less: thus massively aiding the medical research.

Perhaps the HS2 Ltd board, a political party or the government would commit to this task as part of the current HS2 budget and thus ring fence and ensure the funding while enhancing the NHS deliverables with no impact on other budgets.

  • Charles Penny cp@charlespenny.com

HS2 could do more for canals

I read with interest the recent correspondence on High Speed 2 (HS2) canal bridge aesthetics.

In Staveley near Chesterfield the currently published preferred route for HS2 runs at canal water level, obliterating a 1.2km section of the partially restored canal. The immediate consequence is that the Chesterfield Canal Trust is forced to return a £400,000 grant because it cannot guarantee the canal’s future for the next 25 years, halting the regeneration work.

It was unfortunate the HS2 designers could not have raised the alignment to provide the modest clearance required, avoiding the adverse impact on this regeneration project.

  • Ken Weir (MRetd) kenneth.weir@mypostoffice.co.uk

Efficiency does not demand digitisation

Peter Monk remarks on a claim that digitised control might increase capacity on lines into London Waterloo station by 40%, but infers that headways on each track would come down to 60 to 90 seconds (NCE 30 July-6 August).

In 1968, I stood on Wimbledon station with a stopwatch in the morning peak, and timed trains on the up fast line at 90 second headways. It took 80 seconds for a signal to go from green to red, through yellow, double yellow and back to green.

Very impressive. Train speed was 60mph. There were signal boxes at Wimbledon, Raynes Park, New Malden and Surbiton, a distance of about 8km.

Amazing what lights on sticks could achieve.

  • David HT Smith david@thursfieldsmith.co.uk

Let’s get creative

Where are all our creative thinkers? They are painting or sculpting.

We engineers are too busy to think, we also have to comply with laws, rules, regulations, British Standards, codes of practice, the Quality Management System, procedures, the boss, the client, time and budget.

We are constrained and yet required to innovate. Compliance and innovation do not sit easily with each other. My son spent three years at Art College deconstructing himself - his upbringing, beliefs, experiences, relationships and expectations - so he is free to create and innovate.

How can we engineers free up some of our thinking to innovate? Personally, I’m spending more time with artists these days and loving it.

  • Dave Stitt dave@dsabuilding.co.ukcareer

Desktop utility searches must now be possible

The process of desktop studies for buried services still seems unsatisfactory, despite the move to online hosting of plans and the compliance of statutory undertakers with New Roads and Street Works Act.

The process involves contacting an undefined multitude of organisations using an evolving list of logins and contact details, dealing with varying responses, of which some are open to administrative error, and adjusting the contact list depending on geographical location.

Clearly the desktop search is part of a wider process that includes site surveys and safe digging practices, but would it not be beneficial for a single repository to be set up to manage service plan dissemination? I would envisage this as a website hosting all undertakers on a mandatory basis. This information is already available so it seems feasible to bring it together in a single location.

There may be commercial or security issues with this, but are these good enough reasons to prevent a more efficient and thorough process for this vital aspect of project planning? Of course one way of dealing with this at present is simply to employ a company to carry out a desktop utility search. However, this may be prohibitively expensive for smaller projects.

  • Magnus Williams (TMICE), Asset Performance, magnus.williams@environment-agency.gov.uk

Equality depends on getting the details right

I noticed a seemingly minor but potentially detrimental error in the “CPD: A vital improvement tool” viewpoint column in 16-23 July edition of NCE.

Within the article, where the industry’s professional development gaps are discussed, I found the following comment “the company and the individual gain the maximum benefit - the individual is gaining by proving his experience under a certain attribute”.

engineering equality

Finding this language in NCE is frustrating and simply careless. I am sure my female (and probably many male) peers would agree. I find this especially ironic when the same issue has the following comment “we’ve got only 3.6% female [workers], which is pathetic”.

If the industry really wants to attract more female employees into engineering, then we need to be marketing it as an inclusive environment to work in. I recognise that things are changing and we are becoming more diverse.

For example, I work in a 50:50 male:female team, but this is still far from the norm. This simple error in NCE, highlights the fact that we are still battling with the age old perception of the industry; that it is a male-only environment. Clearly we still have a way to go.

I just hope this type of error doesn’t leak into career development discussions in schools, where it could lead to potential female engineers feeling they don’t have a place in the industry.

  • Stephanie Neath, senior engineer (BIM), Vinci Construction UK, stephanie.neath@vinciconstruction.co.uk

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